Pandemic pedagogy

Sean Sullivan
Issue Date: 
June, 2020
Article Body: 

That lingering and long-debated issue of screen time has come to be somewhat of a savior for students and schools during this time of social distancing. Classes are being conducted online, with technology bridging the divides of distance and dislocation so many are experiencing.
Natick’s Paul Power is a science teacher at Kennedy Middle school, and has been experimenting with novel ways to keep connected to his pupils. As the subject of science is often a hands-on discipline, he and his students have turned to technology to maintain that teaching tradition.
In this new pedagogy of the pandemic, Power recruits his sons to take part in lab videos filmed from his home, which students are then invited to view, comment on, and experiment on their own. Newton’s laws of motion are a current subject of study for these virtual classes - think balloon rockets and demonstrations of billiard balls ricocheting about.
“It’s kind of a family project,” Power said. “We try to make it interactive and fun. We just try to engage them.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker officially closed the state’s public schools on April 21st, but Natick High School was tentatively shuttered on March 12, and remained so for the rest of the 2020 school year due to worsening pandemic prospects. Mid March saw the closing of many schools statewide as the spreading virus dominated the news.
Natick’s virtual classrooms have been beaming onto screens and into homes since mid march and are slated to continue until June 17th., which will mark the end of a most memorable and challenging school year. Some school districts, said Power, have forgone live interactions between students and teachers, opting instead for posting content and assignments.
For many families, some level of homeschooling is now a supplement to the shortened sessions students are participating in remotely. That undoubtedly has augmented many parents’ appreciation for the educators who play such essential roles in students’ lives.
Though video is no substitute for in-person interactions between teachers and pupils, that familiar-face time found in live, virtual classrooms has been a source of comfort and connection during uncertain and unusual times. Via these group video sessions, rituals once taken for granted like verbal attendance are transformed into touchstones, tethers between classmates, friends and familiar ways of being.
Certain effects of this new virtual-reality vision of teaching have been surprising. Some students, said Power, have emerged from their shells in response to the format, participating more so than they had in their former, physical classroom settings.
Ongoing video meetings with fellow teachers have also been a key feature of this era, with educators brainstorming about best practices during the pandemic.
“In middle school, we teach as a team. That communication is key.”
Power’s experience with these extraordinary educational circumstances has been one of both worlds. In addition to the resourcefulness required during this new reality of teaching, he’s also the parent of three young sons and two college-age daughters. They’ve had their traditional school years cut short, and have been sequestered at home with Power and his wife, Meg. These, as many parents are aware, have been challenging circumstances.
“So, my house is a little crazy,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get back in the classroom in September.”